Loja, Ecuador: A City that will Surprise You

Until a few days ago my knowledge of coffee was as follows: buy a bag at the store once in a while and drink a couple of cups to get me going each day. I’ve just returned from an extremely interesting tour, organized by the owner of a local coffee shop here in Cuenca, Ecuador, with a new-found appreciation for my morning beverage.

Ecuadorian coffee is of excellent quality and often organic, but you won’t find it at your grocer or Starbuck’s. Production is nowhere near the level of, say, Colombia or Costa Rica. After observing the hard work of artisanal growers and processors I’ll never complain about the price of coffee again!

I also came home quite impressed with Loja, the city where we overnighted during our trip. It’s the capital of the Loja province, has a population of around 200,000, and sits at about 6,800 feet. That’s 1,400 feet lower than Cuenca, so it enjoys a warmer climate year round.

Loja hasn’t gotten a lot of attention as an expat destination, mainly because of a perception that hardly anyone there speaks English.

But actually—I was in the liquor store next to our hotel after the first day of travel. I asked, in Spanish, the cost of a bottle of wine. “Twelve dollars,” the proprietor replied, in English. I inquired about good restaurants nearby. “What would you like to eat?” the customer behind me said—in English.

Somewhat flummoxed, I stopped by the front desk of the hotel and requested, in Spanish, a map of the city. “Where do you want to go?” asked the clerk—yes, English again.

Loja has most things that you will find in Ecuador’s retiree favorite Cuenca, with a warmer climate.

Now maybe by some fluke I stumbled upon the only three English speakers in town, but I kind of doubt it. I’m not suggesting that one should consider expatriating to Loja without reasonable Spanish skills, but the claim that next to no English is spoken there is a myth.

So why would you think about moving to Loja? I came away thinking of the city as “Cuenca Lite.” You can find most everything Cuenca offers—just less of it. Loja has a lovely downtown historic area—a gorgeous park—a mall with multiplex cinemas—even a Supermaxi (Ecuador’s largest grocery chain). You’ll find lots of restaurants, gyms, and auto dealerships. Both SOLCA, the country’s premier cancer treatment center, and IESS (Ecuador’s Social Security system) have hospitals in Loja, and there are numerous private medical facilities as well.

Housing runs the gamut from brand new mid-rise buildings to single family homes rising up the hillsides surrounding the city. A modern airport less than an hour away has flights each day to both Quito and Guayaquil.

And, yes, there’s the climate. Many expats love everything about Cuenca except they find the weather too chilly for their tastes. (Cuenca enjoys average highs of 70 F to lows of 50 F.) Loja offers a similar, although scaled down, city environment plus warmer temps.

If you’re considering relocation to Ecuador and the attributes I’ve described resonate, I encourage you to take a close look at Loja. It just might be your cup of coffee!

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